The military governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Gen. Thomas Gage, ordered a force of elite infantry and grenadier units to sortie from Boston after nightfall. The goal was to seize military supplies believed hidden in the nearby village of Concord, in hopes of preventing those supplies from being used in open rebellion against His Majesty George III.
Two hundred and thirty-one years ago today:
Well, as anybody who actually studied American history can tell you, the raid was a failure. Most of the gunpowder, shot, muskets and cannon that had been stored in Concord had been dispersed weeks before the raid. The local Patriot leaders knew the British column's destination before most of the British officers did. The British column was able to drive off a small militia company at Lexington, and did seize and destroy some contraband in Concord. However, militia from across Massachusetts were pouring into Concord - both rapid-response "Minute" companies and the "regular" militia. When a militia force marched on the North Bridge over the Concord River, the British troops securing the bridge fell back across the river and opened fire. The militia's return fire wounded half the British officers and broke the companies at the bridge.
The British column began marching back to Boston, running into one ambush after another as more and more militia companies formed up. A relief brigade marched out of Boston and met up with the original force (now tired, low on ammunition, and nearly routed), in Lexington. Even with the reinforcements, though, the British were finding themselves outnumbered by the locals; the firing and the fighting got fiercer and fiercer the closer the column got to Boston. Eventually, the British regulars made it back to Charlestown; the militia commanders fell back and laid siege to Boston. The American Revolution had begun.
I grew up in Carlisle, about four and a half miles from the North Bridge. The road I grew up on was the line of march for the small party of Carlisle Minutemen, as well as for militia from Chelmsford and points north. Some of my ancestors were part of the great fight. To this day, Patriot's Day is celebrated as a state holiday in Massachusetts (and Maine, as jhetley pointed out the other day), although the fashion for Monday holidays has moved the celebration to the third Monday of April for a couple of decades, now.
It is, today, fashionable amongst self-described "conservatives" and "patriots" to sneer at Massachusetts liberals as somehow being "un-American". Ironic, isn't it, that today's conservatives would have been Tory royalists two centuries ago; if they'd had their way, there wouldn't be a United States of America today.
(More information about the events of April 19, 1775, for those who may be interested, is available at the Minute Man National Historical Park website.)